Developing Mutually Beneficial Partnerships Between Arts and Business

Posted by Jordan Shue, May 20, 2014 0 comments

BCA National Survey of Business Support for the Arts 2013 BCA National Survey of Business Support for the Arts 2013

In addition to measuring the dollars spent by businesses in support of the arts, as well as the types of companies doing the supporting, the 2013 BCA Survey of Business Support for the Arts delved into the motivations and goals of businesses when considering partnerships with the arts.

As much as we may want to focus on why businesses do support the arts when trying to build strategic partnerships with them, the reasons why they typically don’t support the arts will never go away if we don’t address them head-on. Fortunately, a lot of the reasons businesses choose not to support the arts can be amended by starting open communication with companies that historically have not shown interest in supporting our sector. Many times, this is because they don’t know how the arts can benefit the company and its employees, and not because the arts are not perceived as useful to society. (It’s also important to remember that 66% of organizations in the survey stated that they have never been asked to support the arts).

Let’s look at some of the reasons why businesses in the survey choose not to contribute to the arts, and how we may counteract them:

  • Prefer to focus on other areas such as education and social services
  • Give primarily to organizations where there is an existing relationship
  • Does not fit strategic business goals
  • Lack of employee interest in the arts
  • The arts haven’t made a convincing case for why business should give

These are common problems that arts organizations face when attempting to build relationships with businesses. From their perspective, why should they support the arts when kids in the area can’t get a decent education or suffer from a turbulent home life? From our perspective, we know that a lot of what the sector does involves educating our children about art in ways that expand their problem solving capabilities and social skills. We also know that many arts organizations provide services such as after school programs for underserved communities, which help to give kids a sense of self-worth and value. With countless more examples, arts organizations ultimately work to enhance the communities in which they reside through a wide spectrum of social and educational benefits of being exposed to the arts. Many businesses have never been able to make that connection, so starting a dialogue and beginning to shift their understanding of what arts organizations really do is a great starting point to counteract this disconnect. The pARTnership Movement, an initiative from Americans for the Arts to reach business leaders with the message that partnering with the arts can build their competitive advantage, has a list of 8 reasons to partner with the arts that can prove helpful for starting conversations with business leaders. The site also boasts a bevy of toolkits about approaching businesses and beginning collaborations.

Starting a conversation to bridge this gap between the arts and businesses can be trickier than it sounds, so some strategic thinking and planning before making moves is a plus. It’s best to first listen to the goals and challenges of a business so that you can work with each to achieve their objectives. Comparing what you may want out of the partnership to the mission of a business is important to find one whose goals may be the most closely aligned to yours. Short phone calls, coffee meetings, and lunches are all ways to work up to building a relationship. It’s important to state the case for why supporting the arts and your organization is important, but as in all relationships, the key is being able to cultivate a mutually beneficial arrangement in which the business perceives value that moves its own interests and strategic goals forward. This may take more time and effort than usual, but when done properly it can result in strong, long-term relationships that stand the test of time.

Creativity is also often the key to building a good working relationship with a business, as they are increasingly looking for innovative ways to connect with the arts that go beyond classic sponsorship. A great first step is to find alternative methods of engaging the employees of the business in question in the arts. Training programs that utilize artistic methods, like Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville’s WorkCREATIVE program, are often appealing to businesses because they provide a direct benefit to both their employees and their functionality. Employee art shows, concerts, or other artistic challenges – like ArtsinStark’s recent inaugural Genius Awards, in which teams of corporate employees had to create an obstacle course from an inflatable robot to run using only materials in a steamer trunk – are a great way to involve employees and show businesses that the arts are a breeding ground for innovation and problem solving in both individual and team settings. These kinds of programs feed into the bottom lines of businesses, resulting in a mutually beneficial relationship between the two partners.

Of course, all of these things are easier said than done, but it’s important to acknowledge the factors that often prohibit businesses from the supporting the arts, in addition to the reasons why they do. For more information on how to face these challenges, visit the pARTnership Movement for success stories, toolkits on how to form partnerships, and read more from the BCA Survey.

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